Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


Deconstructing the American Weekend: Where Religion Fits In

Were there too many empty pews in your church last weekend? Just what was everyone else doing while you were at Mass?

A great resource for understanding what Americans do is the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which is conducted by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We’ve previously used ATUS and other similar studies to look at generational differences in religious practice over time.

The ATUS interviews respondents from a large, nationally representative, random sample of households (more than 26,000) over the course of a year. Respondents are asked how they spent their time the day before they were interviewed (from 4 a.m. to 4 a.m.). The survey inquires as such: “So let's begin. Yesterday, at 4:00 AM, what were you doing?” The duration of activities are recorded and the day and night is filled out. Respondents can and do indicate that they multitask (i.e., do more than one thing at a time). The advantage of conducting a time use study is that the research is not directly inquiring about activities. So respondents are not asked, “Did you go to religious services?” (…when asked directly by Gallup, about four in ten Americans say they’ve gone to religious services in the week prior to being interviewed). In the ATUS, church attendance is only recorded if the respondent brings this up. This creates more accurate estimates of what people are actually doing (something we’ve covered before: 1, 2).

The table below shows the ATUS results for 2013 for what Americans (ages 15 and older) did on Saturdays and Sundays combined (…note this includes people of any religious affiliation or no affiliation). Nearly four in ten hours of the day on a weekend (38.9%) is spent asleep (an average of 9.34 hours per day). Nearly all Americans report time spent on leisure activities (e.g., socializing, relaxing, using entertainment content) on the weekend, averaging 5.73 hours per day (24% of weekend time). Of this weekend leisure time, 60% is spent watching television (2.57 hours per day). The only other activity that nearly all Americans report doing is eating and drinking and this takes on average, 1.21 hours per day on the weekend (5% of weekend time). One in five Americans works on the weekend (20.7%). Of those who do so, they spend on average 5.48 hours per day on the job. In CARA’s national surveys of adult Catholics we ask respondents for reasons that explain why they have missed Mass. Work is one of the top reasons cited (also illness).

After sleeping, leisure activities, eating and drinking, and work (for some) there is a scattering of other things done more frequently, on average, than religious or spiritual activities. These include: grooming (74.7% engaging for an average of 0.9 hours), housework (35.5% engaging for an average of 1.82 hours), food preparation and cleanup (53.7% engaging for an average of 1.18 hours), consumer goods purchases (42.2% engaging for an average of 1.17 hours), sports, exercise, and recreation (18.8% engaging for an average of 2.18 hours), caring for and helping children in the household (17.5% engaging for an average of 2.12 hours), and travel for leisure and sports (39.3% engaging for an average of 0.8 hours) or for purchasing goods and services (42.4% engaging for an average of 0.72 hours).

On average, Americans spend 0.31 hours per day on the weekend engaged in religious and spiritual activities (1.3% of weekend time). Note again this includes those of all (or no) affiliations and time on both Saturday and Sunday. Overall, 15.5% of Americans report a religious or spiritual activity and of these people, an average of 1.98 hours per day is spent on these activities (8.3% of their weekend time). As shown below, there is very little change in the percentage of time spent on religious or spiritual activities over the last decade. Americans have not become any less religious or spiritual in the things that they do since data collection began in 2003 (…don’t expect to ever read that in a newspaper as it doesn’t fit into the current “narrative” but it is in the data for anyone to see).

These religious or spiritual activities include things like attending a variety of religious services, prayer, meditating, reading or studying religious or spiritual texts, religious education, conducting religious rites in the home, evangelizing, religious or spiritual food preparation, religious or spiritual singing, retreats, visiting graves, or cleaning up after religious services.

Americans spend more time, on average, doing religious or spiritual things on the weekend than lawn and garden care, volunteering, homework or research, caring for pets, home repair, or vehicle-related activities.

Only 6.4% of Americans report religious or spiritual activities on a weekday. Of those who do, an average of 1.17 hours is spent on this per day.

Perhaps the ATUS data can also reveal the biggest “competitor” for time facing religious and spiritual activities. As Robert Putnam identified in Bowling Alone (2000) the one technology that appears to be the most efficient for “consuming” more and more of our time continues to be television. There is likely more than enough space for religion and spirituality alongside shopping and exercising. Working, eating, sleeping, and grooming are all relatively inescapable. Yet, it is difficult to imagine that television ( much as I love it) is an “essential” for anyone.

It is true that one could watch religious and spiritual content on television. However, CARA’s multiple surveys on this topic reveal this is not a common activity by any means (1, 2). The channel is more often tuned elsewhere. More importantly the ATUS does not code viewing religious or spiritual content as “watching TV” and instead places that time under religious or spiritual activity.

Whether weekday or weekend, more than eight in ten Americans watches television. The average TV watcher consumes more than 24 hours of television per week! Before televisions invaded our living spaces that would have been a whole day every week that we would have spent doing something else (e.g., bowling in a league, visiting neighbors, going to PTA meetings, spending time at the lodge, playing with the kids outside). Over the last decade it has become so much easier to watch television. From cellphones to flat screens, on traditional networks or cable to streaming services—video content has never been so accessible. And the data reveal Americans continue to have a growing appetite for this content. In 2003, the average TV watcher (i.e., most Americans) consumed 23 hours per week. In 2013, the total had grown to 24.4 hours per week.

As television becomes easier to consume almost anywhere and anytime, many brick and mortar membership institutions (including Catholic parishes) are gradually losing their ability to compete for time and attention against video content (from two-minute clips to full-length films). Catholic parishes must be able to make the case that Mass is more important and more interesting than a Game of Thrones streaming marathon or an NFL game. One would think that the former should be evident to any self-identified Catholic. However, CARA’s national surveys show many Catholics do not think missing Mass is a sin or at least not a sin that will lead to negative consequences. Monthly attendance is becoming a norm among many Catholic sub-groups. Making the case for “more interesting” can be a bigger challenge. One avenue may be to join in and do more religion on television, Netflix, YouTube, etc. Get people interested in their faith with good video content and maybe they will be more inclined to create that weekend space for religion and spirituality in a parish.

Until then, when some Catholics (and those of other faiths) continue to tell survey researchers that they “just drifted away” from their faith to be “nothing” we may better understand where many really drift off to…

Images courtesy of Chris Smith and Chris Brown.

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